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Definition Return to top
Hypertensive retinopathy is damage to the back part of the eye (retina) caused by high blood pressure.
Causes Return to top
High blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels in the eyes. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it has been high, the more severe the damage is likely to be.
Your health care provider can see narrowing of blood vessels, and excess fluid oozing from blood vessels, with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope. The degree of retina damage (retinopathy) is graded on a scale of 1 to 4.
At grade 1, no symptoms may be present. Grade 4 hypertensive retinopathy includes swelling of the optic nerve and of the visual center of the retina (macula). Such swelling can cause decreased vision.
Other retinopathies that are known complications of high blood pressure are called:
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
Treatment Return to top
Control of high blood pressure (hypertension) is the only treatment for hypertensive retinopathy.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Patients with grade 4 (severe hypertensive retinopathy) frequently also have heart and kidney complications of high blood pressure. The retina will generally recover well if the blood pressure is controlled, but some patients with grade 4 hypertensive retinopathy will have permanent damage to the optic nerve or macula.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have high blood pressure and vision changes or headaches occur.
Prevention Return to top
Control of high blood pressure prevents changes in the blood vessels of the eye.
References Return to topKlig JE. Ophthalmologic complications of systemic disease. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2008 Feb;26(1):217-31, viii Update Date: 9/7/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.